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Feature Christmas 2013: Medical Histories

Growing up over the shop

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 17 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6922
  1. J Gareth Jones, professor
  1. 1Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to: johngareth423{at}
  • Accepted 23 September 2013

Living in hospital accommodation as a child gave Gareth Jones an unusual insight into his future career

It is Christmas Day in the workhouse . . .

And the guardians and their ladies,

Although the wind is east,

Have come in their furs and wrappers,

To watch their charges feast.

George R Sims

Many medical families in mid-20th century Britain grew up in hospital residence. I lived with my family in what had been Cardiff Union workhouse, built for 900 inmates. The workhouse was a feature of British life until 1930. I was born six years later in this institution, now renamed City Lodge Hospital, where my father was senior resident medical officer, and we lived there until he retired 18 years later, when I went to medical school.

My home still had the features of the workhouse: three storey stone buildings surrounded by high walls, iron gates, and railings; a church; and a terrace of 12 cottages in which elderly couples could live. Tall double wooden doors divided the grounds into lawned exercise yards. These doors were closed at night to isolate the hospital from the outside world. The hospital continued to accommodate some of the former workhouse inmates. Male and female inmates were segregated in wards, where the dominant colours were bottle green and cream. I sampled the green leather padded cells (his ’n’ hers) in the male and female “mental” wards. Male vagrants, or casuals, were still housed in a building with 45 cells and an adjacent stone breaking yard. Ambulant inmates ate in the hospital dining hall under a barrel vault ceiling. This, with its permanent stage, was the venue for the staff Christmas ball and concert. The former workhouse master, Mr Roffey, married to the matron, continued to administer City Lodge and lived in a …

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